Parenting in the Digital Age: It’s Time to go on the Offensive
By Dina Alexander, MS
We have come to live quite defensively when it comes to our kids and technology. Many of us have locked down aspects of the internet through blocks and parental controls on our home computers, phones, and Netflix. We try to stay up to date on the latest apps and tech trends. But we don’t seem to know if we are winning or losing “the battle.”
It’s easy to get bogged down with fear and frustration with every new social-media-bullying headline we see. We feel anxious when our kids ask to get a social media account or start texting friends—and with good reason! Our friends with teenagers have all shared a horror story of their kids being exposed to sexual content online, getting left out, being bullied, or worse.
As in any facet of parenting, I’ve come to realize, we can no longer parent in a defensive position. There is a better, more positive approach to raising children in the digital age.
It’s time to go on the offensive.
Yes, we need to talk about dangers and keeping our kids safe online (and offline). But that is just one step in a much richer, fuller process in our modern parenting.
It’s time to empower ourselves and our kids to the possibilities all around us!
It’s time to connect our wisdom with their tech savvy in order to build better relationships and a better future.
As my kids and I explore the possibilities of technology, we see new opportunities everywhere. My daughter is continually expanding her positive quotes account on Instagram, my son emailed the president of a university he hopes to attend one day (and received a response), and I have been able to reach out to experts in a variety of fields via Twitter. Our family members are also working on a technology driven Eagle Scout project, talking to friends across the country via video chat, building villages on Minecraft, working on family history, and connecting with teachers and classmates through Google Classroom and other apps.
All of these uses for technology have potential hazards, but they also have tremendous potential. Potential for good!
Using Technology for good is called positive digital citizenship.
Positive Digital Citizenship: Using technology to make a positive impact on others (family, school, community, etc.) through tolerance, kindness, authenticity, and ingenuity.
How do we start practicing and teaching positive digital citizenship to our kids?
Here are 6 simple strategies to practice and discuss with your family:
Help your kids see potential in all technology. Start looking for ways to use phones, tablets, etc., as tools and instruments, not just as a way to pacify or entertain us.
Help your children see themselves as agents for change. Remind them that they can change the world for the better!
Look for opportunities to use technology to help others. Be an example and teach your kids to give sincere compliments to others on social media. Show them how it can make more of a genuine impact to send an email or text to one individual at a time.
Openly discuss rules and guidelines for cell phone and social media usage for kids and parents in your home. Make rules together, especially when designating tech-free zones and screen-free times like dinnertime. Our book, How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography, includes several ways to do this.
Create a cell phone contract for your child or download one from the the internet—there are many out there. Look it over, discuss it with your child, and have your child commit to following the rules laid out in the contract. Give your child the opportunity to make wise choices and make mistakes while they are still living with you, under your guidance.
Actively use technology to bring your family closer together. Message your teen or partner with words of encouragement or share something important with them while at school (without disturbing class time of course). If your child likes to game, find games that can be played together as a family and that build and create rather than kill and destroy.
Take the next step in changing the world around you. Look for opportunities to co-create new technology, new positive online trends, new platforms, new devices and anything else you can imagine together with your kids.
Approaching technology with our kids can no longer be done from a fearful, reactive position. We can start teaching our kids to use technology positively, actively, and with a purpose—not merely to be acted upon. We want our children to have a stake in the digital world and we can guide them there.
Dina Alexander is the founder and president of Educate and Empower Kids (educateempowerkids.org), an organization determined to strengthen families by teaching digital citizenship, media literacy, and healthy sexuality education—including education about the dangers of online porn. She is the creator of Noah’s New Phone: A Story About Using Technology for Good, Messages About Me: A Journey to Healthy Body Image, How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography and the 30 Days of Sex Talks and 30 Days to a Stronger Child programs. She received her master’s degree in recreation therapy from the University of Utah and her bachelors from Brigham Young University. She is an amazing mom and loves spending time with her husband and three kids. Together, they live in Texas.